It was always blistering hot and that afternoon was no different. The exhaust of the idling plane’s engines only made it worse, so the sergeant was silently grateful when the crew shut down the last spinning turboprop. White powder-like dust, kicked up when it taxied in, was just beginning to settle over the aircraft, and everything else, adding to the overall drabness of the remote airfield. He met the loadmaster at the back ramp and over the whining power unit called to him,
“You’re early. How many pax?”
“Thirty-two…well, twenty-nine. Three didn’t make it.”
“All right. The medics are enroute. What’s that guy’s story?” he asked pointing to the litter being carried off and away to the shade of the aircraft’s wing.
“Fucker stinks. Really bad.”
“Hell, they all stink.”
“No. This guy’s really bad. Rotting.”
The sergeant cocked his head at that and the loadmaster pointed to a guy in plain fatigues following the stretcher bearers.
“Talk to him. The interpreter. He’ll fill you in” pointing to a guy standing away from the litter patient.
“OK. I’ll get on the horn and get the mortuary guys out here most skosh.”
As he approached the Semitic looking guy in the unmarked fatigues he noted the US flag sewn on his soldier and a ‘INTERPRETER’ strip sewn above his pocket. His name, ‘ABDUL-AZIZ’ was sewn over the over the other pocket.
“What’s his story?” he asked as a way of greeting and pointed to the litter patient laying alone on the tarmac.
“Shit. I didn’t think he’d last this long. See that bag he holding?”
“Yeah, what gives?”
“…his leg. Fucker’s been hugging it since we picked him up day’n a half ago. Won’t give it up.
He was walking south, hands up, weapon slung upside down just like instructed, when about a
hundred meters from the friendlies he finds a mine. Blew his fucking leg off. Took two of his
buddies out. A corpsman stopped the bleeding but the guy wouldn’t stop screaming until some
grunt bagged his leg up and gave it to him. I guess this joker believes he can’t go meet Allah
without it. Thinks he wouldn’t be whole. Thing is, it really stinks…but he won’t let go of it. The
crew and the other POW’s were complaining so we off loaded him.”
Abdul-Aziz lit up a cigarette and offered another to the sergeant. Even though he didn’t smoke he took it and lit it hoping to drown out the some of the stench which draped over them. Wondering which was worse, the putrid smell of the dying Iraqi or the sun’s blistering heat, he debated walking away from the shade of the plane’s wing but didn’t. Instead he approached the dirty, whiskered, litter-borne prisoner and offered him his cigarette which he accepted with his free hand. He nodded his head gratefully and smiled up at the sergeant through yellow and missing teeth. For the first time he saw the mottled gray-green lump in the milky bag the guy hugged to his chest with his other bandaged arm. The acrid smell almost burned his nostrils so nodded to the guy and backed away.
Back with the interpreter he asked him, “You a Moslim?”
“Yeah. But I was born and raised in Michigan”
“What do you think…will he get into heaven with only one leg?”
“Well, if he does, I hope we can’t smell anything up there.” Then taking a long drag from his cigarette and handing what was left to the sergeant, he continued, shaking his head, “Fucker really stinks.”